Take 5 Friday: 5 Ways to Ease Distraction So You Can Write

By Christine Hennebury

I was going to call this piece ‘5 Ways to Fight Distraction’ but I don’t think we need any more battle metaphors at this point. 

So many of us are stressed, distressed, and anxious that we probably aren’t up to fighting- not even metaphorically. 

Instead, I would like to help you to find ways to EASE your distraction, to give yourself a break from the mental hop from thought to thought, and to choose something to focus on, even for a few minutes. 

Background image of a stack of books, a cup of coffee, a clock and an antique typewriter. Foreground image of a yellow circle with the 10 Minute Novelists logo in it with the text 'Take 5 Friday: 5 Ways to Ease Distraction so You Can Write'

1. Lower your expectations

If you are distracted and having trouble focusing, it’s probably not the time to try to produce a masterpiece. This exercise is about choosing a focus and exercising your writing muscles, it’s not about being a genius.

So, lower your expectations. Tell yourself that it is okay to write absolute drivel. 

Remind yourself that this is about the process of writing, not about the results.

2. Have an topic/idea/prompt ready

You don’t want to sit down to write and have nothing to say. And you definitely don’t want to spend your writing time with your brain just jumping around from idea to idea.

That’s why it’s a good idea to choose your topic/idea/prompt in advance.

That way, you will be able to spend more of your writing time actually writing and you will enjoy it more.

Meanwhile,when you sit down to write, if you are inspired to write about something else, go ahead! The key is that you spend your time writing instead of choosing.

3. Choose a time & place

If you are practicing social distancing right now, your time is somehow both limited and fluid and that makes it hard to settle into getting anything done.

If you want the satisfaction that writing can bring, choose a specific time and place to write. i.e. I’m going to write at the kitchen table for 10 minutes at 2pm today.

Set an alarm for 10 or 15 minutes beforehand and make sure you have everything you need in place so you can start right on schedule.

If you have that fixed point, it will be a little easier for you to choose your focus at that time. And if you don’t pick a time, you will spend all day debating with yourself about whether it’s a good time to start and wondering if another time would be better.

What if something prevents you from writing at your appointed time?

Don’t just cancel your plans, reschedule them.

4. Bring a notebook

Once your writing time begins, be sure to have a notebook or a sheet of paper next to you while you work. 

Every time something pops into your head that is not related to your work, write it down. The tasks, the worries, the ideas, all of them get recorded in the notebook. 

Once you have written it down, you can generally put it out of your mind for the time being – especially if you turn over the paper or close the notebook. 

You can always review the list later and take action on anything important.

5. Use your timer as a bargaining tool

If you are distracted and stressed and refreshing the news every ten seconds, it can feel impossible and, perhaps, almost irresponsible to try to focus on your writing.

Using a timer means that you aren’t going to ‘waste’ time writing when you ‘should’ be paying attention to other things. 

Your writing is never actually a waste of time, of course. 
However, under our current circumstances, anything that doesn’t involve monitoring pandemic developments is going to feel frivolous. 

Using your timer lets you reassure yourself that you aren’t abdicating your responsibility to be constantly vigilant, you are just taking a short break. That framing of the situation can help you give yourself permission to spend a little time focusing on your writing.

Easing distraction may take practice. Please be kind to yourself about it.

This is a challenging and stressful time that is unlike anything most of us have previously experienced. Feeling distracted and scattered is both natural and understandable.

If you feel that doing a little writing would serve you well then I hope that these steps can help. It may take a few tries before you can actually get any writing done but that’s okay. 

And, if you feel like writing is just one more stressor at the moment? Ditch this whole list. But please find another way to be kind to yourself and bring some ease into your days. 

Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her  hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine lives in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada where she makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, . Find out more about her  at  christinehennebury.com  or visit her on Facebook .